One in four employees have been diagnosed with depression, and the country’s economic contributors aged 25 to 44 are most affected, costing South Africa billions of rands and declining Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
A recent study conducted by the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) revealed that more than 40 percent of all work-related illness is due to work-related stress, major depression, burnout and anxiety disorders.
Renata Schoeman, leadership lecturer at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) and psychiatrist, presenting at a corporate mental health awareness seminar at USB urged companies to realise the significance their company structure, expectations of employees and management style has on the company’s annual turn-over, overall productivity and the risk of employees developing health problems that could prevent them temporarily or permanently re-entering the workforce.
She highlighted that the 2016 study revealed that non-disclosure of depression as a reason for sick leave was predominantly due to stigma and fear of not being able to secure their employment.
“Undiagnosed and untreated mental health conditions directly impact a workplace through increased absenteeism and presenteeism (attending work while unwell), reduces productivity and increases costs. Most employers tend to completely underestimate the financial impact of mental illness on their bottom line.”
She said that depression costs South Africa more than R232 billion or 5.7 percent of the country’s GDP due to lost productivity either due to absence from work or attending work whilst unwell, according to the IDEA study of the London School of Economics and Political Science 2016.
“The cognitive symptoms of depression, such as difficulties in concentrating, making decisions and remembering, are present 94 percent of the time during an episode of depression. Since leaders find themselves in roles of decision-making and responsibility, they are more prone to presenteeism. They would be less able to cope with the demands of their position and as a leader, their condition whilst at work would have a major impact on inter-office relationships, decision-making and their ability to manage their teams.”
Schoeman added that “it’s imperative that companies come to understand the leading role they play in alleviating and eradicating possible stressors at work”.
“They should foster a healthy educational environment with pro-active mental health awareness programmes, stress management training, access to services which nurture help-seeking behaviour, implement a coaching or counseling programme, identify people in need of care and offer them resources to ensure they receive proper treatment. But most importantly they need to break the negative association with depression, burnout, and anxiety.”
She further said that although policies and guidelines are necessary it alone will not make a difference but requires a supportive culture of understanding and acceptance.
“Stigma, born out of ignorance, prejudice or fear, is a major problem in the workplace creating a situation where employees choose to rather suffer in silence. One can understand their reluctance to seek support or report their condition, especially in the current economic climate where they might fear losing their job. As a result of mental health problems often go undiagnosed and untreated, not only to the detriment of the individual’s career and health but also directly impacting the workplace’s bottom line.”
– African News Agency (ANA)